It’s hard to find child-sized words kids can use to express spiritual or transcendent experiences. “Kids need to know the words,” says middle school teacher Sheila Edwards. “When you’re giving to others, that’s sacrifice. Labeling it makes it powerful. Kids can say, ‘I did this—it shows I’m committed,’ or ‘This shows I have integrity.’”
A teacher told one student: “Jake’s mother told me that every kid in the class made fun of him when his nose was runny—everyone but you. Your compassion made a difference to Jake. He came home and told his mom about it.”
Our reward for giving children words
The reward for giving children language to go with their spiritual life is that we build a bridge connecting ourselves with the child in the deepest part of their being (and ours). If nurtured, it will remain so for the rest of our lives. And the child can form bonds like this with other trustworthy people because they have language to communicate at this level..
I know, because my mother did this with me.
For instance, in a supermarket line she said, “That clerk has an amazing amount of self-control. Look how patient and calm she is with the angry customer.” Or when I, as an 11-year-old, came sobbing to her about how I was afraid she would die, after comforting me emotionally, she said, “Honey, I am indestructible until my work on earth is finished and when it is, God will provide everything you need to live a good life.”
Start with photos
A young family can benefit from a Photo Album of family members’ generous, thoughtful actions. Young children remember IMAGES, not words. Print and hang actual photos near your dining table or attach them to the refrigerator. Change them periodically to show new expressions of the family’s spiritual values.
Move on to educate them with vocabulary words that match the behaviors.
Notice and affirm loving behavior. “Sage had trouble opening her straw. You did it and poked it into her juice box. That was helpful.”
I listen for, and excitedly affirm children when they use spiritual vocabulary, such as:
justice — mercy — God — peace — helpful –moral — faith — purpose — meaning — ethical — good — right — wrong — reason — conscience — spirit — soul — mind –worship — prayer — forgive — integrity — truth — inner life — loving
Each of these words becomes part of a child’s vocabulary. Once children identify language to go with their spiritual life, they can use those words in daily settings.Their everyday acts and interactions reflect a spiritual quality.
Spiritual qualities my mother’s words passed to me:
To hear with my heart
To see with my soul
To be guided by a hand I cannot hold
To trust in a way that I cannot see
That’s what faith must be. (Michael Card)